By Sheikh Khairul Rahaman
Almost every year, Assam, including Guwahati, gets flooded and the situation is worsening over time. It costs a number of precious lives, property and hard-earned development gains. This year too Assam was marooned by three waves of deluge that claimed 159 lives (as on 9th September). Of late, the world has been rocked by tural disasters – South Asia floods (worst flood in a decade), Hurricane Harvey (worst-ever tural disaster in the US), Hurricane Irma and Mexico earthquake (worst earthquake in a century). Climate change is worsening the situation and making these disasters deadlier. We must be prepared enough to respond to such disasters and bounce back quickly. The world is advancing with breakthrough innovation and technologies – starting from artificial intelligence to self-driven cars. We are the children of technology age – we are living with it and using a number of it in our daily life. The benefits of technology can be tapped to respond and mage these disasters. Even small technologies available to a common man can make a great impact in this regard. It could include a wide range of efforts – starting from a phone call to adding a killer pothole on digital maps.
We are experiencing the biggest ever web of mobile and information technology unfolding – landline telephones to smartphones and 2G to 4G mobile networks. In this age of smartphones, a piece of information reaches a wider masses through WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or many more such social media platforms within minutes. We all share hundreds of our nice clicks, thoughts and many more. Why not utilise this to save a life too? There are a thousand ways to do that. Next time you sense a danger or a crisis situation emerging, share it on different platforms and let others know about it. If required, call the emergency contact numbers of Disaster Magement Service at 1070, Police at 100, Fire Brigade at 101, Ambulance at 102, Traffic Police at 103 and Emergency Response Centre at 108. It might cost few kilobytes of your data or a call charge (the above numbers are toll free), but the returns are priceless – it can save a life or property and even prevent a situation from worsening further. Think about a situation where you have shared the information about electrocution in a waterlogged area, or location of a pothole, depth or current of water during heavy rains in Guwahati or elsewhere and that information helped a person save his/her life from a certain death. But, we all should be cautious of what we are sharing, make sure that it is for good and don’t share false or exaggerated information that might lead to rumours.
If you want to go a step ahead, there is lot to harvest from the mapping technology available to you. The WhatsApp has a facility to share location. Select exact location from the list of the locations or spot the exact location on the map and share it. Google Map helps you to share location on different social media platforms or through private message. And if you are in Cheni, you are privileged to add potholes or waterlogged road on the maps. If there is a disaster, Facebook activates Safety Check to let your family and friends know whether you are safe. This year, Facebook launched Disaster Map that was developed with the users’ location, movements and “Checking in Safe” data and these maps were shared with humanitarian agencies to respond to the situation efficiently. However, Facebook’s safety checks seem to be biased against Assam floods as it has been found giving priority to urban incidences (Mumbai floods).
For better or worse, social media has changed jourlism forever and has become a news source for the general population as well as for jourlists. The era of internet has fuelled this revolution by providing several GBs of data in our hands. Let us use few bytes to spread news to prevent an incident from turning disastrous or prevent a disaster from being further deteriorating. Whenever anyone of us finds such information, share it and call for helping hand. Some of us might have a blog or a webpage to amplify the reach or let others do this job. Unlike Mumbai floods (one day heavy rain and floods), Assam floods (three waves of floods) in not celebrated by “mainstreamed” press or intellectuals; use of social media could be our media tool to spread the word.
Today, we have an app (application) for virtually every sphere of our life and for disaster magement too. There are hundreds of apps on disaster magement with tiol and intertiol features. For Assam, we have got “Disaster Ready Assam” developed by Assam State Disaster Magement Authority. The app helps you to learn safety measures vis-à-vis different hazards, get alerts and call for help during emergencies. Keep these apps handy and use them in need. Ushahidi, a survey and crowdsourcing platform, can be used to collect bottom-up information from margilised people or those who serve them and respond in a better way. U-Report, a social messaging tool that allows anyone from any community, anywhere in the world to respond to polls, report issues, support child rights and work as positive agents of change on behalf of people in their country, can also be used effectively.
This is a small part of a whole range of work that we need to do to make our society disaster-ready and resilient. These small efforts on our part can create a buzz. Informing one another about the danger at the corner of a street or at an isolated part of a river embankment can help save lives and property.
(The author, Project Coorditor – Urban Disaster Risk Reduction with Save the Children, is based in Mumbai.)